Theo Van Gogh was murdered by Mohammed Bouyeri, a radical Islamist. Van Gogh, a controversial Dutch filmmaker, was shot then stabbed when he cycling home one day. Mr Bouyeri then had a shoot out with Dutch police, was captured alive and later convicted of murder. Mr Bouyeri was not particularly poor and had received a good education. He had turned to radical Islam and then to murder.
But how could this happen? The Dutch pride themselves on their tolerance. A tolerance bred in native Dutch and inculcated in the immigrant populations.
Ostensibly, Van Gogh was killed over this film - Submission: Part I. A film he directed and which was written by Ayan Hirsi Ali - a Somali born asylum seeker - who eventually became a Dutch citizen and member of parliament. Go and look at the film and see if it was worth all that trouble - Van Gogh's death and Hirsi Ali's life spent on the run, the threatened removal of her Dutch citizenship, the end of her political career in Holland. Go and have a look at this deliberately provocative film, written by a Muslim woman. Bear with it - it's only 10 minutes long - and don't be put off because it starts in Arabic with Dutch subtitles; it quickly switches to English.
Ian Buruma, the author of Murder in Amsterdam is a journalist and academic living in the US, born and raised in Holland, and with a similar privileged background in the same area the Theo Van Gogh was raised. He went back to Holland after the murder to find out what had happened to the tranquil Dutch sense of tolerance - first abruptly ended by both the success of anti-immigration, anti-Muslim politician Pim Fortuyn and then by his assassination by a radical vegan. (Yes, that's right - fur is murder.)
Although Mr Buruma explores questions of identity, faith, politics, and tolerance in Holland - those living in Europe - particularly those in moderate, cool Northern Europe will see reflections of what is happening in their own countries. Perhaps in Holland, the situation is magnified, because of the peculiarities of Dutch culture and history, in particular the dichotomy between the bravery of some individual Dutch during WW2 in protecting the Jewish population but the stark reality that most Dutch said nothing and most Dutch Jews were exterminated.
The Dutch are proud of their role in the Enlightenment, their tolerance, their progressiveness. In many ways, rightly so. And this book explores how many on the left as well as the "Enlightenment right" (where I am increasingly placing myself) have begun to have deep suspicisions of not just political Islamism, but also Islam itself - and how it may roll back the hard-won advances in universal civil liberties.
Questioned about his hostility to Islam, [Pim] Fortuyn said "I have no desire to have to go through the emancipation of women and homosexuals all over again."
But the book also explores how second generation, Dutch-born Muslims can turn against the nominal, moderate or "village traditional" Islam. The problem of Islamism in Europe is not just a problem of immigrants and zealous converts, but a problem with a source in the host culture as well. What is it about European culture that prevents it from assimilating immigrants and bringing them into the host culture - at least bringing them in enough.
I am an immigrant to the UK myself - and though white, well-educated, Protestant and partly English by heritage, I can never become English. I could never become English the way my British husband could become American if he chose to embrace it. English people are shocked (but pleased) when I tell them I'm an ardent England football fan. Ethnicity and race and nationality and culture are too intertwined in Europe. So how much harder must it be for the brown, the truly foreign (at least the English don't consider me truly foreign), and the differently faithed to really integrate? Not that immigrants don't have a responsibility themselves to respect and interact with the host culture.
Buruma asks these questions, but he doesn't provide any answers. For a book of reportage, it curiously suspenseful.
What others have said:
Kevin Breathnach at Disillusioned Lefty leaves the book off his essential reading list because it doesn't cover the tenents of radical Islam:
...Buruma delves not into the world of radical and political Islam (that is ‘Islamism’) as explicated by Paul Berman. Not once do we read of Sayyid Qutb, Ayman al-Zarahiri, Hassan al-Banna, Abu al-Mawdudi or even Osama Bin Laden. These are the key figures in the history of fundamentalist Islam; to know them is to at least begin to understand the threat the West faces.
Well, yes. But almost as much of the book deals with the Dutch reaction to National Socialism and it doesn't expose the basics of Nazism either. Radical and political Islam isn't treated as a "well, maybe it's ok" - Buruma clearly does not approve of it. Radical Islam is not the topic of the book, the book is about how we in the West accomodate, tolerate, ignore or battle against Islamism.
Piers Dorsman at Peaktalk, understands that Buruma's, but rightly calls him on his failure to make the link between the fundamental teachings of faith (or philosophy) and the eventual extremes a faith or belief may take.
There has been a fair bit of criticism for Buruma, most notably that he failed to take a clear moral stance and was not sufficiently judgmental in taking sides in the conflict between free societies and nascent Islamism. To be frank, I was relieved to for once have a book in my hands that did not do that. Buruma is clear enough in what he thinks about jihadism, and instead gives us equal access to the Dutch and Moroccan cultures, and more specifically to Theo van Gogh’s life and Mohammed Bouyeri’s life.
In the end of the book Buruma tries to explore ways where tolerance could neutralize the perils of radical Islam and hopes that religion can ultimately become the subject of reasoned debate, even for Muslims. This quote from the writer makes it clear where the boundaries between the Koran and fundamentalism are:“Revolutionary Islam is linked to the Koran, to be sure, just as Stalinism and Maoism were linked to Das Kapital, but to explain the horrors of China’s man made famines or the Soviet Gulag solely by inviting the writings of Karl Marx would be to miss the main point”Yes, correct, but this conclusion can also be explained in another direction by arguing that however well-meaning the basic tenets of Islam are, they have the potential to be turned around into a deadly totalitarian ideology. Theo van Gogh in his own distinctive way was not given to this type of socio-political analysis, but instinctively understood the dangers of history in the making. Yet at the heart he remained a Dutchman, a little too complacent and somewhat oblivious of the immediate perils. One can only imagine the panic he must have felt when he was butchered to death on an Amsterdam street.
And Richard at The Peking Duck said:
Ian Buruma's Murder in Amsterdam: The Death of Theo van Gogh and the Limits of Tolerance is a slender volume with big type and lots of white space that nevertheless forced me to challenge some of my most cherished liberal principles. I loved this book because it made me think. It showed me a side of life in contemporary Europe that I didn't know much about. Yes, I had an idea of the Muslim 'ghettoes' that have become a standard feature of many great European cities, but I must admit, I hadn't realized how serious a threat they now pose.I think this final point from Richard is important. The left must start to recognise that acceptance and tolerance do have their limits. And we risk throwing away the important social progress that has been made in the 20th century if we allow a radical political Islam to flourish by turning a blind eye to what it means. (And if you have any doubts, read this draft constitution for the caliphate).
But Buruma goes on to describe the unique feature of many Islam immigrants in Europe that does indeed place them in a special category - a disrespect for the laws and values of their host nations. Living in Amsterdam's 'dish city' is one thing, but when young Muslims start to throw bricks through the window of a gay bar on the fringe of the nieghborhood and threaten their patrons, a great big red flag is raised. It's one thing to bring your culture with you. It is quite another to disrespect the culture and laws of your host. In the eyes of the radical Muslims Buruma describes (and he describes many types of Muslims, from the most tolerant and liberal to the most obsessively deranged), homosexuality is expressly denounced in the Quran and it cannot be tolerated. Do we welcome into our borders those who can rationalize the murder of gays?